As the season heads into its final third, Dublin University Football Club’s (DUFC) survival in the Ulster Bank League will require more of the character they had on display here. It looked as if it would be a long day for the Trinity faithful when Buccaneers crashed over for their second try in the opening 10 minutes but Tony Smeeth and his charges pulled off a feat of escapology to claw their way back into the contest in the second half. He called for patience, not panic, in the face of their disastrous opening, and his players responded.
The game, played in College Park, was only seconds old when Buccaneers intercepted a loose pass and broke down the pitch unopposed for an easy score. The conversion followed and Trinity looked to the experience of Jack McDermott, starting at outhalf, to bring them back into contention. But in that early phase it was the visitors who looked dangerous, fanning out across the pitch and probing from the wide areas. A series of pick and goes soon unlocked Trinity’s defence and the visitors took their second try from short range.
The fightback began immediately, with Trinity looking to exploit the space up the middle of the pitch that Buccaneers were leaving, a consequence of their wide approach. At around the 20-minute mark came the reward. Sebastian Fromm, playing on the wing, began a mazy run through the Buccaneers back line, before second row Alex McDonald arrived in support. McDonald had a lot to do, taking on the ball from just inside the visitors half, but he left the chasing pack behind to cross between the posts. McDermott will have better days kicking, out of hand and from the spot, but he was good for the extras.
The next 10 minutes saw a war for position. Buccaneers were impressive in the lineout and moved the ball dangerously at times but handling errors in wide positions killed their attacking threat, on the rare occasion an opening presented itself. DUFC, on the other hand, exploited one quick turnover to bring themselves back into the game. Aengus Lloyd tapped and went himself from the subsequent penalty, was cynically checked by his opposite number, and despite calls for a yellow card, Trinity were happy with a kickable penalty in front of the posts. McDermott delivered.
Buccaneers restored their seven-point advantage from the penalty spot almost immediately, but momentum was with Trinity as the first half entered its final phases. From a maul in the corner the home side went over for their second try, and although the conversion was sliced wide from a tight angle, it was the team from the Midlands that were panicking now. Half time came and they were able to regroup before Trinity did any more damage.
The second half saw a long stalemate, with both of Buccaneers second rows making punishing runs into a packed home defence. With both sides probing for the crucial next score, it was a matter of who could keep their discipline at the breakdown. This was the moment the leaders in the spine of this Trinity side stood up to be counted. Paddy Finlay made an explosive break down the centre, his pack came up in support, and the referee punished Buccaneers for their scrambled defensive efforts. Tommy Whittle came on in place of McDermott and with his first touch he sank the penalty that put Trinity in the driving seat for the first time, at 18-17. Then another penalty, and a yellow card for Buccaneers, followed. Whittle split the posts nervelessly to buy Trinity precious breathing room.
Suddenly it was Trinity’s game to lose, and over a nerve-shredding 10 minute period it looked the home side might do just that. Inviting pressure onto themselves with handling errors and some poor clearing kicks, it took a huge, sustained defensive effort to keep Buccaneers at bay. At one stage, a 20-phase attack was only ended by a superb series of covering tackles, from fullback Jack Kelly and Fromm respectively. The moment of the match was a superb diving tackle from winger Evan Dixon to smother a surefire Buccaneers try on the right wing. Frustrated to be turned away so close to the try line, Buccaneers lost their discipline after another huge hit from Finlay, who injured himself in the process, Whittle was able to put the ball into touch for the final whistle. The points, the character and the defensive discipline shown here will be crucial come the end of the season.